Moth Mania

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Sugaring-Old Lady moth
This ‘Old Lady’ visited our sugar trap.

Moths are fab – not drab! They are as brightly coloured and patterned as their day-flying relatives, and come in all shapes and sizes. With an amazing 2,500 different types of moths, compared to 58 different butterflies in the UK, looking for moths and experiencing their world at night is a magical and wonderful way to learn about nature. For fun ‘mothing’ techniques read on.

Going along to an organised moth trapping event where a specialist light trap is used is the best first step to learn about the amazing variety of moths. From very large and conspicuous moths such as the Privet Hawkmoth to the tiny and beautifully camouflaged Chinese Character which looks like a bird dropping, a new and mysterious world is revealed. With names such as Garden Tiger, Snout and Yellow Underwing who wouldn’t be intrigued?

However, you don’t need to have your own specialist moth trap to explore your local patch. Moths are easy to attract at night and are often seen fluttering around porch and street lamps. Simple light traps can be home-made, using plastic tubs and bottles to make a funnel and holding chamber, or simply hang a large white sheet between trees and shine a bright light behind to attract insects.

An effective and fun alternative is sugaring. This technique uses a sugary bait to attract moths. Moths feed on nectar, sap and honeydew – so sugar, although refined, will attract them to feed.

You will need: 454g tin of black treacle, 1 Kg brown sugar, 500ml brown ale, paint brush.

Slowly heat the ale in a large pan (do not boil) and simmer for five minutes. Stir in and dissolve the sugar, followed by the treacle and simmer for two minutes. Be super careful – hot sugar can scold.

Allow to cool before pouring into a container. Now the fun bit which children love – paint the sticky mixture at eye level onto tree trunks or fence posts just before dusk. Then check for moths by torch-light for the first two hours of darkness; the sweet fragrance of the mixture acts as an attractant.

As late summer and autumn are good times of the year for sugaring, in particular warm humid nights with a light wind, we set up our sugary bait and excitingly waited for our first visitors. To our delight within the first hour a very large brown moth called an Old Lady appeared. It was fascinating to watch it feed using its long proboscis.

We were hooked and enjoyed the next few hours waiting for more moths to arrive whilst watching fluttering bats, a visiting garden hedgehog and listening to Tawny Owls calling. So enjoy the late summer evenings, set up your own moth trap and you’ll soon have moth mania!

  • Recommended book for identification and studying moths: Field Guide to Moths of Great Britain and Ireland, P. Waring and M. Townsend. Fabulous illustrations by R. Lewington.
  • Moth night.  For more information go to: